Release Date: Feb 8, 2011
Record label: Superball Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
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...Trail Of Dead's seventh studio album is not far off perfect... …Trail Of Dead albums always sound like a small slice of the apocalypse committed to disc and their seventh, with all its glory and bluster and boiling storms of noise, is no different. What is new this time, though, is that rather than the grinding intensity of their previous records, ‘Tao Of The Dead’ flows and rolls like a stoner’s adventure to the shops to buy some more Rizla – there are moments of peril, reflective joy and giddy excitement, and once it’s over you kind of want to do it all again.That ‘Tao…’ was recorded in a fraction of the time of anything …Trail Of Dead have done before is evident in the way songs curl into one another.
If you’re jonesin’ for some good ol’ fashioned prog-rock mania—the kind of vivid storybook shit that calls to mind sword-fighting knights and fire-breathing dragons; the sort of divisive musical excess in which narrative concepts are not only encouraged but necessary; the sort of instrumentally dense, over-the-top, unrelenting drama that can bring fans of both Tolkien and Yes to their knees—then…well, you’ve come to the right place. . .
Beleaguered Austin band ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have been accused of many things over the years. Having a sense of humor is not one of them. That’ll most likely change when people get a glance at frontman Conrad Keely’s Baron Munchausen on even more acid cover art for their brilliant new album Tao of the Dead. Maybe the band has just been taking the piss all along.
The sense of liberation that rejuvenated … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead on The Century of Self, the band’s first album on their own Richter Scale imprint, continues on The Tao of The Dead. Indeed, the way Conrad Keely and company flex their brains and muscles here, without any confines except the ones they make for themselves, makes The Century of Self feel like a dress rehearsal. It's easy to see why any other label might not want to take a risk on an album like this: it’s divided into two parts, it’s written in two specific tunings, and the album artwork is the first installment of Keely's steampunk graphic novel.
After courageously throwing the towel to record label heavyweights Interscope, Texan rockers …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead were adamant about tracing a new path that was far from barren. This decision cemented everything they had wanted to avoid from the start: the pressures of unripe artistic expression, nebulous lineup changes, and failing to present a true calling card for those who would never understand their blazing rock posture. A death certificate had already been notarized, picking up dust at some executive’s office until it was time to end a lethargic record deal run.
Tao of the Dead, the seventh LP from embattled hardcore-prog studio junkies ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, is something of a double-concept album, running the thematic gamut from the death of rock radio to the work of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. It is split into two sections-- well, suites-- divided by key. There's a limited edition that comes complete with an extra half hour of music and a graphic novel.
Another [a]…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead[/a] record, another album adorned with artwork fit for a 4×4’s spare wheel cover. Fortunately, that matters zilch given the Texans continue the scintillating form rediscovered on preceding opus [b]‘The Century Of Self’[/b]. As their Punk Floyd brio dictates, [b]‘Tao…’[/b] is replete with numerous concurrent running concepts, split into two thematic parts.Potential pretension is blown to tiny slithers of lacerating prog come [b]‘Summer Of All Dead Souls’[/b], though, while even tempo drops like [b]‘Spiral Jetty’[/b] bristle with scarcely contained crackle.
Review Summary: Balls out.“What a beautiful death, to die in the exercise of your passion,” remarks Philippe Petit in the excellent 2008 documentary Man on Wire. It’s a literal statement as well as philosophical – high-wire artist Petit could literally die if he falls off his balancing wire between the World Trade Centers, but it’s also a testament to how committed he is to his craft. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead frontman Conrad Keely would probably be the first to agree, so caught up in his own band’s mythology and defiant independence that to compromise his own artistic values would probably kill him (most likely accompanied by a full symphony and a choir of wailing female voices).
Nearly a decade has passed since …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead released what ended up being — almost unanimously considered — their definitive statement as a band, Source Tags and Codes. That album, an artful refinement of their more anarchic early work, was followed by three more albums of further, ill-advised refinement, taking the Austin prog-punk band far beyond the point of benefit or improvement. Nine years since Source Tags and Codes, Trail of Dead barely resembled what they used to be.
On “Pure Radio Cosplay,” Tao of the Dead’s opening track, Trail of Dead singer Conrad Keely declares rock music dead and gone, and we know he believes it by the trail of disappointing songs that follow. The sentiment’s nothing new—2005’s “Worlds Apart” made the same point to a jauntier melody—but the sound is, at least for the band. Tao borrows heavily from the twin canons of modern rock and album-oriented radio, running Smashing Pumpkins’ foaming rhythms through Pink Floyd’s flangers.
…AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD play Lee's Palace May 3. See listing. Rating: NNN After the success of And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's first three records, including Source Tags & Codes, which found them ditching indie cred for major-label support, the Austin band's follow-ups suffered from critical backlash and disappointing sales.
As I write this review, I’m watching an amazing episode of The X-Files on Netflix, wherein a revolting, genetically engineered creature knocks up a rube named Shaineh, experiences society’s puritanical intolerance toward mutant aberrations, then has a blast at a Cher concert with Mulder and Scully. The episode is called “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” which also happens to be the subtitle of a song on the new Trail of Dead album. Its chorus consists of Conrad Keely and his crew screaming “You! Will! Pay!” over a torrent of power chords, while the verses indulge in predictably gothic mythopoetics: there’s a Winter Queen, also a ferry to the land of the dead.
Texan rockers’ seventh album will be remembered as another high point. Stephanie Burkett 2011 Seventeen years (!) and seven albums (!!) down the line and …Trail of Dead are producing some of their most consistent – and best – work yet. That’s not merely noteworthy in this day and age, that’s staggering – and considering Tao of the Dead was written and recorded faster than any of their previous albums by some distance, the only logical conclusion is that, when placed next to 2009’s wonderful The Century of Self, it represents one of rock’s most beloved bands hitting as rich a seam of form as we’ve seen before.
For the better part of a decade, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have waged war against Source Tags and Codes, the indie rock cornerstone the band has spent nearly nine years trying to follow up. In the three full-lengths and three EPs that they’ve released since 2002, Trail of Dead have lived under their third album’s shadow while trying to move a million different directions at once away from it. The band’s seventh album in 16 years, Tao of the Dead, finds the band with a more singular focus, and they’re back to combining the ambition and the reckless abandon that once made them critical darlings.
After foundering on three ambitious but underwhelming LPs that paled in comparison to 1999's Madonna and 2002's Source Tags & Codes, ... Trail of Dead makes a convincing course correction with Tao of the Dead. The locals' penchant for grandiose concepts and elongated immolation remains, but part one of Tao avoids letting the song cycle run away with the songs.